Money Management for the “Boomerang” Household
By Jason Alderman
Due to recent economic realities, multi-generational living has been on the rise for many families.
A 2014 Pew Research Center analysis (http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/07/17/in-post-recession-era-young-adults-drive-continuing-rise-in-multi-generational-living/) showed that a record 57 million Americans, equal to a little over 18 percent of the U.S. population, lived in multi-generational family households in 2012 – double the number in 1980. The major driver was young adults aged 25-34. According to Pew, nearly 24 percent of these older millennials lived in multi-generational households, increased from nearly 19 percent in 2007 and 11 percent in 1980.
It’s possible the “boomerang” family trend will remain in place for some time to come. For homeowner parents who may also be juggling the “sandwich” responsibilities of caring for older relatives, paying attention to the financial and behavioral details of taking in family is critical. Here are some suggestions to consider:
Your finances come first. Operating a full house means higher utility and food costs and additional wear and tear on the property. Taking in family also shouldn’t derail a parent’s career goals or retirement planning, nor should it diminish other necessary financial objectives like maximizing savings or eliminating debt. That’s why dual- or single-parent households might begin with a complete financial assessment before welcoming kids or elders back home. A discussion with qualified financial and tax advisors might be worthwhile to determine how much expense you can take on. For arrangements that go beyond free lodging to direct cash support of family members, gift tax issues should be explored.
Make a real agreement. A home is stability and therefore something of significant value. That is why it is appropriate to consider rent or request in-kind services in exchange for room and board. Young adults – particularly those who were fully under parental support in college – need to learn this important lesson even if they are moving home to save money to pay off loans, to buy a car or put a down payment on a home. Ask trusted advisors about what makes sense in your situation. If you decide to accept rent, know there are potential tax issues (http://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc415.html) based on the structure, timeframe and expenses related to such an agreement. Legal paperwork may be required, but there also may be rental expenses you can deduct.
Establish timelines. In the real world, financial arrangements are rarely open-ended. Depending on the financial, tax and legal advice you receive as well as local tenant law and personal preferences, you may be signing an official lease for your family member’s stay with a specific timeline of months or years. Whatever the requirements, make sure you have an effective framework that sets specific financial and behavioral rules you want met.
Start with a family meeting. Before moving trucks arrive, family members should meet for a discussion about the impending move. Start by letting your child or family member talk through why they want to move in, whether they have financial goals tied to the living arrangement and how long they plan to stay. Share the structure you envision, including the payment details you would consider. No matter how the agreement is struck, it should begin with a full discussion of needs, preferences, financial terms, and most of all, ways to make the arrangement successful and smooth. Once the move happens, regular conversations should continue about the living arrangement. After all, “boomerang” families have unique, ongoing financial issues that will require discussion.
Prepare to track expenses. Once agreed, retrofit your household budget to keep track of higher food, utility and related expenses for cost-sharing and potential tax purposes. Having people you love living with you will hopefully have many rewards that go beyond simple dollars, but always know what the arrangement is costing you.
Bottom line: Opening your home to returning family members is a real financial commitment. Think through money, tax and household issues before you say yes.
Jason Alderman directs Visa’s financial education programs. To Follow Jason Alderman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney.